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Mirror Surface Morgan Dollars, Part 2

NSDR Journal


May 2000

Mirror Surface Morgan Dollars, Part 2

By Randy Campbell, NLG

FUN Education Director

Reprinted with permission of the author of FUN-TOPICS

No more than one or two percent of all Morgan dollars exhibit mirror surfaces on both sides of the coin. What causes these mirror surfaces? How did Prooflike, Deep Mirror Prooflike, and Ultra Deep Mirror dollars come into existence?

In his definitive Morgan and Peace Dollar Textbook, author Wayne Miller, listed several causes (pp. 64 tt.) for the existence of mirror surface dollars. Among the cause listed by Miller:


It is believed that the master die for the Morgan series had cameo mirror surfaces The design elements, such as Liberty’s had frosty white surfaces while the fields of the master die had deeply mirrored surfaces. This cameo appearance was then transferred to the working hubs and then to the working dies used to strike dollars. This cameo prooflike effect would be transferred to the first 500-2,000 coins from a given working die before the cameo faded and disappeared. All subsequent dollars struck from that die (perhaps 50,000 to 100,000 coins) would NOT have cameo prooflike surfaces. In most cases these non-prooflike dollars would exhibit frosty or satiny luster.


Sometimes during the striking process a blank planchet failed to feed into the striking press. In this situation, the obverse die and the reverse die would come into contact with each other. This would result in some of the obverse die design being transferred to the fields of the reverse die, and vice versa. This process is known as “clashed dies.”

Mint employees would attempt to polish out the clash marks. The polishing process would result in a mirror surface on the die over its entire surface. The next few hundred coins struck from this polished die would evidence mirror surfaces minus the cameo effect. Such dollars are referred to as brilliant mirror surface dollars or brilliant P-L’s.

Miller lists several other causes for mirror surface Morgan dollars. Those with a strong interest in this topic are urged to read the appropriate chapter in his Morgan and Peace Dollar Textbook which, unfortunately, is out of print and seldom available.


GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS: At some point during the year 1878 a decision was made to change the reverse design from 8 tailfeathers to 7 tailfeathers. However, a significant number of unused 8 tailfeather reverse dies remained. What to do with these expensive, new, 8 tailfeather dies?

The mint decided to superimpose the newer 7 tailfeather design over the 8 tailfeather design on those unused dies, thereby producing what we now call the 7/8 tailfeathers reverse design. Over 15 different reverse dies were used with the 7/8 tailfeathers motif.

As a group, the 1878 7/8 tailfeather dollars display average high point detail, worse than average abrasions, and luster that ranges from below average to average quality. Examples with superior mint luster and few marks are elusive.

PROOFLIKE: The three major grading services have certified fewer than 200 7/8 tailfeather dollars in MS-63 prooflike. Only about 125 have been slabbed in MS-64PL (current bid is a modest $280). This date is a legitimately scarce issue in MS-65 prooflike condition. Only 17 examples have been certified by the leading services in MS-65PL (bid=$2,050). NO MIRROR SURFACE 7/8 TAILFEATHER DOLLARS HAVE BEEN GRADED HIGHER THAN MS-65, as of late 1999.

DEEP MIRROR PROOFLIKE: This issue is somewhat available with mirror surfaces on the obverse or the reverse. However, two-sided Deep Mirror Prooflikes are very scarce above MS-63. In MS-63 DMPL, the three leading certification services have slabbed about 120 coins. In MS-64 DMPL, ANACS has certified 15 coins; PCGS 13; and NGC 11 coins. Current bid in MS-64 DMPL is $1,350.

ONLY 2 COINS have been certified in MS-65 DMPL! I consider the current bid ($9,900) to be theoretical since, to the best of my knowledge, no MS-65 DMPL 7/8 tailfeather dollars have traded hands in several years!

ULTRA DEEP MIRROR: As of late 1999, ANACS has not certified any examples of this date in two-sided ultra Deep Mirror.

COMMENT: Nearly all mirror surface 1878 7/8 tailfeather dollars evidence gray brilliant mirrors. A very small number are known to exist with noticeable cameo contrast on both sides of the coin. They are highly prized by knowledgeable specialists.

This date is extremely popular with variety collectors. Four of Oxman and Fey’s “Top 100 Vams” are 1878 7/8 tailfeather varieties. Indeed, the “King of the VAMS”, the 1878 7/8 tailfeathers VAM-44, has traded hands for several thousand dollars in MS-61 of MS-62 condition. Most known VAM-44 dollars feature Prooflike or Deep Mirror Prooflike surfaces.

The 1878 7/8 tailfeather dollar is a legitimate rarity in MS-64 DMPL and an ultimate rarity in MS-65 DMPL. As such, expect prices to remain very strong for this highly popular issue.


Two significantly different reverses were employed for the 1878, 7 tailfeathers, Morgan dollars. The first of these features a parallel top arrow feather, and concave breast feathers on the eagle. This reverse was used for most dollars bearing the date 1878, hence the name “Reverse of 1878.” (figure1)

Most 1878, 7 tailfeathers with the Reverse of 1878, are rather drab and unattractive. Luster tends to be dull. Surface abrasions tend to be worse than average and most examples feature brilliant mirror surfaces, with little or no contrast between the files and the devices.

A very small number of these Reverse of 1878, 7 tailfeather dollars display a frosted cameo appearance on both sides of the coin. Such coins have been known to sell for huge markups over current bid levels.

PROOFLIKE: The three major grading services have slabbed about 500 of these Reverse of  1878 dollars in MS-63 Prooflike condition. Current bid is a modest $62. Roughly 325 have been certified in MS-64 Prooflike (bid=$165). Strictly Gem MS-65 Prooflike examples of the 1878, 7 tailfeathers, Reverse of 1878, are quite scarce. The three major grading services have encapsulated only 54 examples in MS-65 PL, as of early 2000. Current bid is $1,250.

DEEP MIRROR PROOFLIKE: At ANACS, a minimum of four to six inches of reflectivity is required for a coin to achieve the DMPL superlative (versus two to four inches of reflectivity for a Prooflike). As such, this issue is some-what scarcer in DMPL than in PL. The three major services have certified just over 300 pieces in MS-63 DMPL (current bid is $120). In MS-64 DMPL, just over 200 examples have been certified (bid=$293). Certified MS-65 DMPL example are very scarce (only 19 have been encapsulated by ANACS, PCGS and NGC).

The finest I’ve seen is the impressive Bill Lower specimen, certified as MS-65 DMPL by ANACS. No DMPL examples of this date have been certified above MS-65 as of early 2000.

ULTRA DEEP MIRROR: The 1878, 7 tailfeathers, Reverse of 1878, is excessively rare in Ultra Deep Mirror (minimum of 12 inches of reflectivity). As of this writing, one example has been slabbed in MS-63 UDM and one example has been certified in MS-64 UDM! I have never seen, nor heard of an example that would grade MS-65 UDM.

COMMENT: Although rare, MS-65 DMPL examples seem a bit pricey at $3,825 bid. Attractive MS-64 DMPL’s may be a better buy at the current bid of just $293. Be prepared to pay a significant premium over bid for those examples displaying two-sided cameo contrast.


The second reverse design used for the 1878, 7 tailfeathers, features a top arrow at about 30° angle from the underlying arrow feathers (figure 2).

The breast feather design on this reverse is relatively convex, verses the concave design of the more common Reverse of 1878.

The vast majority of silver dollars struck from 1879 through 1904 featured this slanted top arrow feather design. Thus, it has become known as the Reverse of 1879.

To recap, the Reverse of 1878 features a parallel top arrow feather and concave breast feathers. Market veterans sometimes call this design the “flat breast” variety.

Conversely, the Reverse of 1879, mirror surface dollars display average luster. Bagmarks range from average to worse than average.

Unlike the Reverse of 1878 dollars, many reverse of 1879 dollars feature moderate cameo contrast between the fields and the devices. Overall eye appeal is superior to the typical Reverse of 1878 dollars.

PROOFLIKE: The reverse of 1879, 7 tailfeather dollars are much scarcer than their Reverse 1878 counterparts. In prooflike, the Reverse of 1879 dollars are about five times scarcer. The three major grading services have certified 128 Reverse of 1879 dollars in MS-63 Prooflike (current bid is $170). Only 41 have been slabbed in MS-64 Prooflike (bid=$590). And just five have been graded MS-65 Prooflike by the major services (current bid is $2,750).

DEEP MIRROR PROOFLIKE: The 1878, 7 tailfeathers, Reverse of 1879 is a VERY SCARCE ISSUE in Deep Mirror Prooflike. Only 60 coins have been certified MS-63 DMPL as of early 2000 (bid is $430). Just 24 have been encapsulated in MS-64 DMPL (bid=$1,485).

The 1878, 7 tailfeathers, Reverse of 1879, is a GREAT RARITY in MS-65 Deep Mirror Prooflike. As of the writing, the major grading services have certified ONLY FIVE examples in this lofty grade! The current bid of $6,300 should be considered theoretical since, to the best of my knowledge, no examples have traded hands for quite some time. Should one come up for bids at a major auction, I suspect that the winning bid would exceed current bid levels by several thousand dollars.

ULTRA DEEP MIRROR: No examples have been certified by ANACS in Ultra Deep Mirror. Indeed, this 1878, Reverse of 1879, Morgan dollar may not exist in UDM.

COMMENT: For most collectors the highest grade of this issue that will ever be available for purchase is the rare MS-64 Deep Mirror Prooflike. I believe it is significantly undervalued at the current bid of $1,485.

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